Continuing Disney’s newest trend of releasing big budget live action remakes of their extensive back catalogue is Pete’s Dragon (though the original Pete’s Dragon was mostly live-action apart from the eponymous dragon). Following Cinderella and The Jungle Book, which were both very well received, and with numerous other projects already in production, including next year’s Beauty and the Beast adaptation, it seems this will be a common occurrence in the decade to come. However with Pete’s Dragon receiving a lot less media attention than the previously released live action remakes and also not being as popular originally is there much to like about this new take on the story.
Short answer, yes there is. Long answer, I was shocked by how enjoyable this turned to be. Cinderella and The Jungle Book were helmed by highly experienced directors in Kenneth Branagh and John Favreau and the stories long standing popularity made them a much less risky venture. Pete’s Dragon director David Lowery has a lot less experience, with his last film; the very well received Ain’t them Bodies Saints, being a romantic-drama with a $4 million budget. So to leap from that to a big budget feature like this under the watchful gaze of one of the largest film studios in the world and deliver such a beautiful, coherent film is quite astounding. The locations used within the movie are breath-taking making use of the scenic New Zealand landscape with cinematographer Bojan Bazelli capturing a soulful backdrop that is just a pleasure to take view of. Elliot the dragon is beautifully designed and animated, a gorgeous advertisement of what wonders CGI can create. In a year where Favreau’s The Jungle Book took digital animating to a new level of detail and execution to see yet another film reach such heady heights with nowhere near the budget is an incredible piece of work. Pete’s Dragon’s budget of just $65 million (I know that’s a lot of money, but in context Jungle Book had a $175 million budget) is put to great effect and in young lead actor Oakes Fegley they have unearthed a highly talented individual whose outstanding performance, especially considering a lot of his scenes are two-handers with a CGI dragon, elevates the film into position as one of the summers most delightful films. Bryce Dallas Howard’s performance is her most nuanced in years and you truly believe in the connection that develops between her character and Pete. There are also great supporting turns from the ensemble including Wes Bentley, Karl Urban and young Oona Laurence and a fantastic display of charisma from Robert Redford who brings an authenticity to the film with his decades of experience. His voice is calm, collected and without a hint of fallacy. Whilst other actors may extempore and gesticulate Redford oozes control and is as delightful a presence on screen as ever.
It would be hard to describe Pete’s Dragon as being thoroughly original and it’s perfectly happy to ride the coattails of the films that came before it. It owes a spiritual debt to E.T, as many films do, and is almost flawless in its execution. As astoundingly beautiful as The Jungle Book, more magical than Spielberg’s BFG and as heartfelt as Finding Dory this story may have the scent of familiarity about it but it is in the execution that Pete’s Dragon excels itself. David Lowery has been announced as the director of a live action remake of Peter Pan, which he will co-write with Toby Halbrooks as he did on Pete’s Dragon. I look forward to what else he can achieve following this very impressive piece of work, a late summer treat that I highly recommend.
Dir: David Lowery
Scr: David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks
Cast: Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Oona Laurence, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Robert Redford
Prd: James Whitaker
DOP: Bojan Bazelli
Music: Daniel Hart
Running time: 102 minutes
Pete’s Dragon is out now in UK cinemas.